Jared Diamond on Traditional Societies – Free Ebook

Jemma said Jared and I will be having a talk for up to about an hour and then after that there’ll be some time for questions before we finish at 9 p.m. and Jared’s very kindly agreed to sign books after that in the lobby and I think we’ll begin jared if it’s okay with you just by asking you to as it were set out your store as relates to this the book the world until yesterday drawing out some of the I guess the key themes that you think it’s interesting for us to know about and if you can do that in five minutes or so then we’ll go into yes exactly so for those of you who haven’t read the book you might might want to leave after five minutes because you’ll basically get 500 pages worth they’re boiled down very handily in the next few minutes if I can ask you to do that for for five minutes or so will then follow a conversation reasonably organically picking up on threads that come up and we’ll go from there Jared I’ll also begin by asking whether you can hear me okay and back and in response to your suggestion Robert that I summarized my book in five minutes I have some experience of that because when as a academic I encountered journalists I found myself facing journalists who would say things like on mr. Dimon we know that you’ve written this 500 page book that took you seven years and you put hundreds of articles and books into it but you have to understand that our radio and TV radio listeners and TV viewers and newspaper readers are busy people so mr. Dimon would you please some summarize the last eleven thousand years of history in one sentence yes and because I completely agree with that so I’ve learned how to do that so to summarize this book now in 3 minutes and 45 seconds my latest book is about small-scale traditional tribal societies which we forget for the last six million years all human societies have been small tribal without centralized government and it’s only within the last five thousand years that we’ve developed our first state governments and writing and metal tools so that the way we operate today is drastically different from how we operated throughout human history just as an example Robert you and I have met each other about an hour ago and I can assure you that in the hour since I met you I don’t know what are you about to say I have thought that I have not made any move to kill you and I have not detected you’re making any move to kill needs but in tribal societies that would be unthinkable in tribal societies you live in an area surrounded by other people that you know so that you don’t encounter strangers and if you should encounter strangers it would be someone there to encroach on your land to steal a pig or a woman so that strangers are extremely frightening that’s just one example of what we are utterly used to today dealing with strangers and you just say pig or a woman but we might have to come back to that I will add the point that in in New Guinea where I do my fieldwork they are interchangeable because you buy women with pigs and when I started in New Guinea it was for pigs for women but for woman but there’s no inflation so my book is about I’m not sure that resolves it but will thank you thank you for the information that will do it that will do it as a start a few bachelors out there so the book my book is about differences between what we take for granted in our modern societies and traditional societies which includes that we are accustomed to encountering strangers but traditionally that never happened that our attitude towards danger today is entirely different and much more nonchalant than the New Guinea attitude towards danger did we bring up our children differently that we approach old age differently that we die of different things the vast majority of us he will die of non communicable diseases like diabetes stroke heart disease in traditional New Guinea nobody ever died of one of those diseases but that’s also instructive because that’s because of differences in lifestyle and those of us who adopt a New Guinea like lifestyle can minimize our risk of diabetes stroke heart disease so those are just some examples of differences between traditional societies and modern societies and now I’ve used my three minutes and 45 ok well let me just pick up on a couple of thing I’ll come back to women and pigs but just to be clear when you use the word traditional there a couple of times I would help me might help the audience to just to understand exactly what you mean by traditional and whether is is that not just an artful euphemism for primitive or are we not supposed to say that anymore so perhaps you could help us with what traditional means it is true that we are not supposed to say that but what that gets at is that traditional societies are really all the societies of the world until relatively recently with the rise of state government the rise of dense populations which permitted and required centralized government so we are used to living in dense populations with government with writing with metal tools small-scale traditional societies lacked writing central government metal tools and over the last particularly over the last eleven thousand years traditional societies have been gradually modernized and to the point today we have a the last semi traditional societies ought to be found in parts of New Guinea and the Amazon but even they are in transition so New Guinea friends of mine would say don’t talk about crowd ditional talk about transitional sinseong right so this is an important point just to be clear on I think because I’m the title the world until yesterday might lead us to think that when we look into these traditional societies it’s a bit like looking at a star you’re looking at you know the light that hasn’t reached it yet as though we’re literally looking back into our own past and those people have been frozen in time for thousands of years but you’re not quite saying that are you there’s there is development in these traditional societies there there’s change that’s happening as well as fixity that’s true and as you Robert know from the titles of your own book a title is either shorthand or it’s a lie that’s a stepping stone to the truth yes it is true that that traditional saw all traditional societies today are in contact with the outside world the traditional societies that were encountered within the last several hundred years of the European expansion it’s only on the Australian continent that they were hunter-gatherers surrounded by hunter-gatherers so traditional societies today they’re marked by things including relatively simple technology but they’ve all been influenced to varying degrees by modern industrial societies and presumably that process is kind of unstoppable now I mean what was traditional will become increasingly like what you see in non-traditional broadly westernized societies you’re right that it’s it’s unstoppable in two ways and in traditional societies in the past before there were airplanes the people in the highlands of New Guinea did not know that there was an outside world they didn’t know that there was an ocean and then eventually as airplanes came in they realized there were other things out there but there’s the phenomenon of first contact in which they actually encounter for the first time outsiders the last groups of people in the world who’ve not experienced first contact face-to-face contact with societies with centralized government aw a few cards left in New Guinea both Papua New Guinea and Indonesia New Guinea and more tribes in the Amazon but probably within the next decade something that has existed throughout all of human history the phenomenon of first contact the last first contacts will probably come within the next decade so you’re saying in those particular examples these are people who have literally had no contact beyond their own kith and kin in the sense of being exposed to non traditional societies that’s correct in New Guinea an extreme example the highlands of New Guinea because New Guinea PI lenders were farmers and they were sedentary and they didn’t travel more than say 10 miles from the place of birth they did not know that there was an outside world they received in trade from the coast carry shells but they didn’t know that carry shells came from the ocean and when Europeans came in there was in the 1930s one of the first European airplanes into the highlands of New Guinea brought a New Guinean to the coast a Highlander to the coast he was astonished he scooped up some water salt water he brought the salt water you know container back to the highlands to show people salt water something that they had never encountered extraordinary isn’t that for those of you who have not read Jared’s book there’s an extraordinary photograph of first contact of somebody from a tribe seeing a white face for the first time and I think you described the look on their face as one of terror effectively and I mean of course how could how could it not be I mean how could you be exposed to difference without that being an absolutely upheaving circumstance in your life I have to tell you that that well I have not had first contact with New Guinea at all all the groups that I’ve work with have had contact with the outside world they’re in New Guinea children in remote villages who had never seen a European and as you tour that first one they saw I was the first one and I can recall an eminent introduction to the Western world very first person you meet from the West is Professor Jared Diamond so you know you guys must be really intelligent you know any eminence was lost on them especially I I can picture a baby who was being held by its mother and was laughing and giggling and facing its back to me and then the baby turned around and within a second or two I saw the expression on the face of the baby turned from laughter to order Hara and the baby began screaming and then turned away I have to just check whether you have that effect on Western babies as well okay so we’re talking about traditional societies and although there are a few societies which remain in the world few tribes that literally have had no first contact at all they are the exception and generally you’re talking about traditional societies in the sense that you described in though metal tools and so on which continue into this day have had some first contact with the outside world but find themselves on a trajectory of I don’t if this is the word you would use but modernization of some kind and let me just check is that modernization that you see now developing among those traditional societies does it all adopt the same pattern I is it all becoming westernized or are there kind of varieties of development among the people you’ve seen interesting question Robert there there are big differences there are some New Guinea societies that are much more receptive to change and others that are much more traditional I remember working in a society in the New Guinea Highlands in the 1960s where the local people were rather conservative but there were a few people from another tribe who were much more entrepreneurial and a missionary friend of mine was at this site when the first airplane landed at the airstrip and the local people were rather conservative looked at the airplane and wow-wow and then within five or ten minutes they turned their backs and resumed talking about their sweet potatoes whereas the New Guineans from an outside tribe who were much more entrepreneurial looked at the airplane and then asked the pilot so how much does this cost and how much does it cost to use and how far can you fly and then they did the calculation they came to the pile and said we want to charter your airplane because they had they figured out that they could make a profit chartering this airplane to go to an outlying place with lots birds paradise by the plumes come back and sell so that illustrates the broad differences between the societies that’s interesting I mean in the latter case I mean I imagine that for us it’s easy and maybe you’ll talk about us I think it’s probably easy for us to fetishize somewhat the idea of the traditional society and the kind of Rousseau East idea of going back to nature and so on and we’ll come on to that but I let’s ask the other question the other way around first which is to what extent in some of those societies is there a real Envy desire or jealousy of the West or what you call the weird way of life in a Western educated Industrial rich and democratic you know is there a is there an active jealousy or envy or coveting it goes on coveting yes more than jealousy and envy every New Guinea society that I’ve dealt with they all see the advantages of some of the stuff we have in New Guinea talk pidgin pidgin English the word for this stuff is cargo and New Guineans they always want medicines they see the advantages of being cured of malaria they want metal axes because they see metal axes keep their edge better than stone axes they want tinned food to provide and they want clothing so they’re very practical things they’re not a craving lifestyle necessarily or mentality or the way Westerners seem to behave it’s it’s practical tools that they could assimilate to their lives to make them better yes it’s all right right well let’s talk about the other way around as well because as you know when in the West we talk about primitive or traditional societies it can evoke feelings of you know guilt are we being a colonialist or neo-colonialist in you know in the way we describe people are we being condescending and so on I mean from your experience it would I it would help me perhaps to help the audience to understand a bit better what these sort of what a good disposition might be towards people of those societies because one clearly doesn’t want to write them off as crude savages on the other hand one doesn’t want to sort of fetishize them as the kind of the answer this sort of the Rousseau naturalist answer to all our worries and yet we have very little for those of us who haven’t lived among these people have very little knowledge of them so can you help us to understand what ah yes what I saw a disposition towards them might be a disposition that I adopt yeah in New Guinea avoids the two extremes that you’ve mentioned yeah there are many people many well-meaning liberal people today who adopt a ruse owest attitude and believe the traditional people have wisdom they love the environment they’re free of all the vices that beset modern civilization there are lots of people whom one would pejoratively refer to as racists who instead leave the traditional societies are primitive that they are mentally primitive that they should be killed or brought into the mod world or pushed out of the way as quickly as possible in my work with New Guineans I discovered I went out there naive not knowing what they would be like and my first compression was there people like us they laugh they cry they are scared when I laugh cry and scared so my first impression was people of people everywhere and then gradually I realized that there are big differences they have different concepts of friendship they have different approaches to marriage they have different relationships to young people and old people so the fascinating thing for me about being in New Guinea is that the people whom I can understand at one level and then in other ways even after years and they surprised me yeah I mean we’ll come on to kind of some of the more specific details that you talk about especially in terms of how to bring up children how people deal with justice and so on and aging but just was staying at this broader level for a little while longer I wanted to ask you then if we’ve talked about the word traditional just to understand the word Society because it’s clearly a critical word and one to not be taken that lightly and there were all sorts of assumptions we might make about the word society and one way into this might be that reading your book I get the impression that if you belong to a traditional society you absolutely belong in other words the space for the individual is much more limited than it might be for example in the society we live in in London or in the United States in other words we feel in the West that’s at least in principle we might be able to not agree with a society to stand apart from it to cherish our own individualism and express dissent or not belonging to the society we find ourselves perhaps even arbitrarily part of but I get the sense from you that when you talk about society particularly in the traditional society environment you are talking about environments or cultures in which it’s not possible to not belong so society is a is different from what it is in the West Society we almost are able to look at it over there from our position here as individuals but if I’m right and understanding you in the traditional societies who talk about that’s simply not the case you’re entirely subsumed or enveloped in the societies or the society is everything rather than an option you’re absolutely correct in fact if it’s inconceivable you know that you not belong on New Guinean will identify himself or herself at several levels of belonging first he or she will say I am a member of this clan yeah and then he or she will say that I’m a member of this clan in this village and then the next he or she will identify the language group I am a gimme I am a foreign and then most recently and then they may say and I add well er of Southern Highlands province and then most recently because the Papa New Guinea state has existed only since 1975 the PNG state has been working hard at telling New Guineans in pidgin English um you all get along one fella country we are all New Guineans but it takes work to do that because people first when asked who you are they don’t say I’m a New Guinean they’ll say I’m an hour plan the nearest village of the for a language group in the eastern gardens I would find that absolutely stifling I mean if I had to say you know I am part of this family and I think my family is pretty weird you know and I’m part of this class I have very you know ambiguous feelings about the class to which I belong I’m from this background you know which is public school Oxford you know and I have some ambivalent feelings about that if I had to stand up and identify myself again and again in a non ironic or non critical way with those things it would cause me to feel a considerable amount of discomfort as though my sort of individualism or my ability to determine myself was suddenly taken away from me but I suppose that doesn’t apply in what you’ve described the idea of self determine is Imai would imagine it would be a somewhat unusual concept you’re you’re touching on a big issue and a dilemma you know for New Guineans who move from their tribal village into the capital say Port Moresby to get a job so that uprooting themselves from their tribal identity they’re now living in the capital where there are hundreds of language language groups they’re losing the communal identity at the same time the communal identity is reassuring from Port Moresby they can go back to the village where they know that they fit in when they go back to the village there’s support on the one hand there are obligations on the other hand and just as as an example the New Guineans whom I dedicated my book who she’s educated a lawyer became pngs ambassador to the United States and for long time I’ve been talking with her about whether she’ll go back or whether she’ll stay in the United States she’s decided that she’ll go back to New Guinea but she said the thing that she likes about the United States she loves New Guinea she’s got all the time but what she most likes about the United States is that she can sit down at a sidewalk cafe in Washington DC order her coffee read the newspaper and nobody is going to come up to her and say oh I’ve got trouble can you give me some money that’s to say she she enjoys the anonymity but she also treasures the connections so that’s a kind of best of both worlds scenario but would it be true to say them that in these traditional societies there’s no sense of self that you know the tribe the clan the belonging group always precedes or takes precedence over the self and that in fact a concept of the self would be sort of anomalous in some way I would phrase it differently there written here is a sense of self do individuals differ in New Guinea as much as they differ in in the United States or in in the UK but there’s the Nexus of obligations which you’ve been brought up and interestingly I had thought of the obligations as being something something voluntary something embraced the New Guineans from a given group love to help each other and it was therefore an eye-opener to me went on on one occasion I bought a Highlander too from his village to a Highland town and I was going to buy him some things that I asked are you going to share all this bring this back and share it with your fellow clans people and his response was a blunt force but share it with my fellow clans people my relatives those no-good lazy good-for-nothings no I work hard I’m going to get it for myself and so it’ll astray –tz– that that the communality partly it’s because life is out in the open everything is visible and so you have to share yeah but if you’re given the opportunity you can’t take it for yourself and so New Guinea’s nowadays they love trousers with pockets and that they love opaque bags because they hide stuff from their home it’s plumbing so I guess it’s impossible to be private in that situations nope you are that’s true there’s no kind of place to withdraw I mean I mean how does that work in practice I mean its privacy is something we treasure in the West even though it’s becoming more and more difficult to to preserve I mean I mean how do people without putting to find a point about how do people have kind of an intimate life with one another let’s go straight to the example what what does one do about having sex in such a society yes it is with you well children up to the age of six share the mat with the appearance yeah and I read an account I think it happened to be for a Polynesian Society but could be for any ways around the world so the parents have sex on the mat and the babies are there next to them and if the baby looks up then the parent will say to the baby pull the blanket over your head and don’t look right simple would you there’s all sorts of reactions to that number and that okay they say you have a seven-year-old son a daughter yes the thought of her anyway interesting very interesting but again that sort of plays to this idea that there’s no individual that isn’t sort of part of a group you’re you’re in play as it were all the time aren’t you in play well let’s sort having touched on some of those broader themes I wonder if we can zoom in a bit and consider as it were the lifespan that one might have in these two contrasting environments a traditional one in a western one so sort of going from birth to to aging because maybe we can touch at some points along the way like in terms of how people deal with risk or justice and so on diet in particular because it’s interesting you talk about different approaches to child rearing in in the two different environments and I’m conscious as you say I’ve got a seven-year-old and I’m conscious because I’ve also got older children too conscious of how much kind of almost paranoia they seems to be in as in kind of London in middle-class environments about child rearing and it’s more like sort of training athletes for you know to be perfect in some way you know they’ve got to have the piano lessons the violin lessons the extra math and so I mean there’s it’s quite an intense so the almost factory based approach to producing perfection and it’s sort of pre transactional and it seems to me getting worse you know and the idea the idea I mean I was telling Jared beforehand this anecdote I overheard in the school playground a mother talking to another mother saying but have changed the name of their child involved it’s called that Alice yes we know what we want fairness we wanted to read economics of Harvard seven-year-old seven-year-old child so pretty terrible but I think probably not entirely unusual and it’s I think what some parents are thinking if not they’re actually expressing so when you hear that Jarrett I mean how does that make you feel what’s that make you think of in terms of the contrast between the two cultures this is one of the areas where living and working in New Guinea has most influenced my personal life namely my approached having brought up my wife and I bringing up our children there’s of course diversity and how children are brought up in traditional society just as there is in modern state societies but a generalization is that children in traditional societies small-scale societies are given far more independence they’re allowed to make their own decisions and an extreme example is that in the in the New Guinea Highlands when I started to work there I was struck by the fact that most New Guinea Highlanders have fire scars on their arms and I thought that it was because children there’s a adults have fire scars and I thought that they had acquired this as adults making fires but know many of these fires caused most of them are acquired from babies playing close to the fire and the attitude of the parents is it’s for that baby to decide and the baby will have to learn well that goes further my wife and I did not let our children play next Tigers body we did leave our children as much freedom as possible to make their choices in an example I was telling him beforehand about my son’s career choice that son at age 3 saw his first snake it was love at first sight it was a dead snake my wife and I and our snake lovers but max loved that snake he did he picked it up he carried it around for two weeks he then wanted a pet snake all right child is not to be denied if it’s it we’re not gonna get him a poisonous rattlesnake but we bought him a snake and then another and eventually max built up to 147 pet snakes frogs reptiles Vivienne’s was in the Salomon riots but this is what got used to making his own choices and as I was telling you when Murray and I were on a vacation just after you graduated college and he had not made a career choice one day while we were on a ship and $15 per minute ship to shore phone max called us up and said and said I’ve decided I’m going to become a chef and tomorrow I want to enter culinary school and I need to write a check will you write the check well this is this is a boy who made his own who were you raised him to make his own choices I resonate with their being asked to write a check I have to say okay so but that doesn’t that take us to veering a bit towards one of the extremes we talked about earlier which is rather idealizing these traditional societies note the children run wild they spontaneously develop they’re incredibly creative yes they may get a little bit burned every now and then but in the grand scheme of things you know they don’t die so let them run free so are we skirting a bit too close to that perhaps idealized vision the reality is reasonably close to what you described it’s not that the children don’t die sadly maybe half of children in traditional New Guinea or Africa die but not of fires and knives they die particularly of infectious diseases or starvation or unavoidable accidents but it is true that the degree of Independence is far greater and oh and most people who’ve worked who’ve lived in traditional societies who have an African new guinea or somewheres else are struck by the the self-confidence the independence the ability to make their own choices of children five or ten years old I don’t give just the story to illustrate I was in a village in New Guinea where we had lost our Porter’s we needed Porter’s to get on to the next village and most of the adults the men were out of the village so I had to hire as Porter’s anybody who would volunteer there was a ten you boy I asked made him ten years old who volunteered to carry goods for us and was gonna be for a week well his parents weren’t around but this is a ten-year-old boy who can make his own decision so he went off with a white man and when his parents came back they would have been told that their son went to off with some white man in this direction at the end of the week of carrying stuff I needed to hire one or two people to help me with my work on birds and this 10 year old again volunteered so instead of coming back in a week as his parents thought he came back a month later and as far as his parents were New Guinea parents their view is we’ve raised that child to be independent and he can decide for himself and he can size up the white man but he negotiated with me a ten-year-old child or even a five-year-old child negotiates with me from a posture of self-confidence and certainly my own children at age 5 would not have been able to negotiate a job right that’s extraordinary example isn’t it and I think this brings us onto the area of how kind of risk is managed in life because when I think one of the things that drives us in the West to be perhaps overprotective with our children and to keep them indoors rather than playing on the street is because because of a kind of Daily Mail sort of paranoia we’ve developed this idea that you know if we let our children play on the street they’ll immediately be seized by a pedophile and we won’t ever see them again you know there’s a kind of generalized paranoia about this or if not that that they’ll be mugged or they’ll get run over or if they go and play in the garden that they’ll get stung you know it’s as if we see the childhood environments that our children play in as sort of a fraught with danger and it makes us you know correspondingly risk-averse but I assume you’re not saying that in traditional societies people have no sense of risk they just think children are fine though they’ll get on with it there’s because presumably there’s much danger in the societies you’re describing as there is in the ones real or unreal that we find in the West so what’s what’s going on with that how does danger how do people deal with danger in those circumstances you are correct that of course there’s danger in just as there’s danger in the United States the dangers are different in New Guinea or in traditional or in Africa the dangers are especially environmental dangers lions crocodiles stinging insects in our sanitized Western world we’ve we’ve tamed the environments who environmental dangers or less of the air there are the dangers of infectious diseases which we’ve tamed we face different dangers cars for example but it’s not just we’ve traded one set of dangers for another set it’s that the overall level of danger in New Guinea is higher than in the UK and let me check so it’s because I think there’s a distinction between real and perceived danger certainly in the case of child rearing in this country I think the perceived danger is much greater than the real danger are you talking in the New Guinea example about you were talking about real danger and that people don’t as it were bump up the danger through perception in the way that we do in the West correctly the real level of danger in New Guinea’s is higher than in the UK for two reasons yeah it’s measured by shorter life span traditionally they would die at 45 or 50 we died at 77 or 80 so the the level of mortal danger per year is higher in New Guinea and the other difference is that dangers in the UK and in the u.s. damage can often be repaired whereas in New Guinea it cannot be repaired the one occasion when I broke a leg bone in the US it was crossing Harvard Square and Cambridge Mass on the ice I stumbled over to a telephone rang my physician father who picked me up by leg on set and I was okay for the rest of my life we were in New Guinea if you break a leg on one occasion in New Guinea when I injured the leg I was 20 miles from the coast and there was no way that I was going to be able to walk out if I had not recovered in addition if you break a bone in New Guinea there are not experienced surgeons who will set it and so not only may not be able to walk get out but if you do somehow walk out you’re likely to end up crippled for the rest of your life so New Guineans are more alert to danger than we are yes I mean what other things we’ll do before we close this part of the discussion is try and capture I guess some of the kind of lessons that we can learn from these societies and we were chatting earlier and I think it comes up in the book about just four very simple things we can do like being much more careful in the shower than we might otherwise be because actually our chance of slipping over in the shower and hurting ourselves is infinitely greater than getting blown up in an aircraft for example if that happen to me I slipped over in the shower and I was in my 20s and was serious serious accident all you have to do is to read the obituary column or the necrology column of any newspaper or any day and you will see that a one of a communist causes of either death or crippling or loss of quality of life of older people is falling in the shower or on a stepladder or on the sidewalk or going up and down stairs I have already done today the most dangerous thing that I will do all day today namely I took a shower in my hotel bathroom which is not very well designed and that you might say well Jared that’s ridiculous your chances of slipping in the shower or only one in a thousand to which I would respond 1,000 isn’t good enough just do the numbers so I’m 76 my life expectancy now is 15 years that means daily showers I have five thousand four and seventy five thousand and if my risk of foreign crippled myself in the shower is as high as 1 in 1,000 I’m gonna kill myself five times before I live out my life expectancy so I have learned to be really careful about showers you may have noticed mine holding on to the banister as I walked in here because those are the real dangers of our everyday life not terrorists not plane crashes but showers stepladders alcohol cars basically how I live my life I’m very pleased to see the inner nerd in you come out in those statistics as well so but clearly there is there is nevertheless danger in those societies and you mentioned right at the beginning and we’re having a conversation here without is killing one another right so presumably you might not get you might not sleep over in the shower but the chances of actually being killed by somebody from another group are real mm-hmm so it’s probably a more glamorous ending than slipping down the stairs I’d imagine but it’s more likely to make make the newspaper yeah but it is true that if you’re in a society a sedentary society where you know your own group and you know the people next door a stranger really does mean I’m dangerous so the the the antennae go up yeah um again one of the most profound lessons that I learned from New Guineans it came out of an incident in early in my career in New Guinea I was with New Guineans starting birds we were moving up a mountain I was picking a new campsite and so I picked a campsite in a broad place and a ridge that would be great for bird-watching under a gigantic beautiful tree and there was a drop-off where I could see Swift’s and Powers and pigeons and I told the New Guineans let’s make camp here and to my surprise they were frightened they said we are knocking up sleep under this tree what’s the matter this tree is dead so I looked up and yes the tree is dead but it’s colossal and I said this tree is gonna fall down for 40 years no they would not sleep under the tree they would grab sleep in the open and at first I thought they were being paranoid with exaggerated fears but as time went on every night that I sleep in the New Guinea jungle you can hear somewheres a tree falling and then I did the numbers and if every night you sleep under a dead tree and if the chances of the dead tree falling on you that night are only 1 in 1,000 but you do it every night in 3 years 1,000 you’ll be dead so that yeah so the dangers are real and the killing is real as fascinated to read about how people deal with the consequences or how they deal with disputes and killings and you know tension between different tribes and plans not other groupings and so on and and we were chatting about this earlier because I think there really are some lessons to be learned here about the difference between Western approaches to justice and the other approaches that you describe in the book because you know broadly speaking in the West we think justice is the answer you know if there’s been a breach of some kind we deal with it through justice and justice is in theory a way of kind of balancing the scales but it’s quite a it’s obviously legalistic and it’s quite a cognitive approach almost analytic approach to the aftermath of a breach or a disaster or whatever it might be you know something’s gone wrong there so we must even it up with that crack you know there’s a there’s a crime and there’s a punishment and that’s how we sort of see it in the West almost as a yes literally it’s a kind of analytical balance but it’s very striking reading what do you had to say in this and talking with you earlier that there are some costs and consequences to that approach which is that the opportunity to move on for healing is much less taken care of so there’s no there’s no kind of therapeutic element if you like or no restorative element in justice seen in that very crude way so I think it would be interesting for us to hear a little bit more how we might learn from dealing with let’s call them breaches crimes or what have you in a way which is perhaps more human and allows people to move on and whether or not that’s only possible because those societies are smaller and people have to live with upon another and get on with one another and therefore wouldn’t apply to the West anyway so two questions in one there but sure yeah this is a good example because here’s an earring we’ve we’ve talked about it here is where I can learn as an individual from the unions about bringing up children levels of danger but they’re also areas which which we cannot adopt as individuals but it’s instead that our society has to adopt them so justice in the UK and in the u.s. is administered by the state and its concern is right or wrong and making amends and asserting the authority of the state if you are wrong you are not permitted to take revenge yourself you turn it over to the state because many of the things that and in fact sorry to interrupt in a certain sense that’s sort of how we define civilization in the West it’s precisely not while justice its I might want to get my own back on you but actually I’m not going to do that we sublimate things through through the state it’s almost like a hops or something you know there’s a higher authority which enables us to be civilized it’s precisely that you know without that we might be savages quote some quotes yeah one one can define the state as centralized organization that arose in order to monopolize force and in order to justify doing that to assert the practice of justice and many of our encounters many of the rights and wrongs we encounter are with strangers that we never saw before we’ll never see again but anybody in the UK or the US who’s been involved in a divorce or an inheritance dispute you know perfectly well that the court system doesn’t care a bit about emotional reconciliation it cares about right wrong and alimony and child support and who gets the inheritance and the result tragically is so often is usually that the divorcing couple end up hating each other or that the brother and sister and inheritance dispute end up unable to speak to each other for the rest of their life there was a New Guinea in traditional societies the purpose of resolving disputes because those people who can be around you for the rest of your life the interest is not and right or wrong but the interest is in restoring relationship so you can deal with that person forever yeah an extreme example that surprised me was that a friend Hmong New Guinea friend of mine described to me that his father was killed by the next group when his mother was pregnant with him and there was fighting that went on so that his group left near ancestral lands and finally 25 years later they achieved reconciliation that let them come back to the ancestral lands the reconciliation my friends had consisted of us holding a feast and giving them pigs and I thought I’m misunderstanding why on earth are you giving them then pigs when they’ve killed your father and other people and he said well they also had their own complaints that we were trespassing on their land but the purpose of the whole operation was to restore feelings so that we could get back to our ancestral lands it was not a pretense of determining right or wrong but it was of restoring relationships so we could then live the rest of our lives in peace okay okay but then to the second question maybe that’s only possible because those are smaller societies whereas you know in the West I mean I don’t have any statistics at my fingertips that although lots of people are killed by people who know them it’s often the case that people are killed by complete strangers and so the imperative for a restoration is somewhat weaker because the chances of being in that community with that person for a long period of time are a lower is that right you are correct that the the personal imperative for restoring relationship is weak or non-existent because the dispute or crime involves someone that you never saw and will never see again but the emotional consequences are with you for life I have several for one friend whose sister was murdered fifty years ago and the criminals the killers were sent to prison and my friend 50 years later is still tortured by the murder of his sister because there was no emotional confrontation of reconciliation yeah there’s a movement that you know in the UK I think that of the we in the u.s. called restorative justice which brings together victims of crimes or the survivors of the victims with criminals to see each other face to face and to see that the criminal is not an ogre but as a person that had his or her own reasons for doing it and that the victim is not some inconsequential person but that I did that harm that Widow by killing that man I made her life miserable and the restorative justice system is reasonably well developed in New Zealand and Canada and some one in the UK and it’s starting in the US I think I mentioned to you earlier that I’m involved in this is classic sort of group therapy thing called constellations and one of the things that comes up again and again in that is that when a murder takes place the bond a bond is created between perpetrator and victim which is as strong as any bond created and any other kind of as it were a normal walk of life and that it doesn’t go away anyway I’m conscious of time I want us to talk a little bit before handing over to the audience about kind of later life and how we deal with aging and so on and of course enroute to that and you’ve mentioned life expectancy our lifestyle factors like diet and you know how that affects longevity positively or negatively and one of the facts that I stuck out for me from many facts that you’ve enumerated in the book is this one about the pizza do you remember this there’s more salt in one pizza than there is in the entire life entire yearly intake or somebody from Papua New Guinea if I remember that correctly that is true in particular there is a there’s a restaurant in Orange County here the food inspectors measured the amount of salt in a new Neal and was 18 grams whereas for New Guinea harlot or yanomamö Indian soil consumption per day is 50 milligrams which means that that noodle Neal contains one years worth of salt intake for New Guinea Highlander and the consequences of that are that we get stroke and hypertension whereas in traditional Guinea no one got stroke hypertension type 2 diabetes heart disease yeah and not only that but as you know in the West we now have growing concerns over an aging population dementia Alzheimer’s are becoming more and more prevalent in this society we’re not sure how to deal with it we feel there’s a you know there’s a resource issue there’s a finance issue and so on what what are the things we could potentially learn from traditional societies in terms of how we might deal with our older folk the most surprising single fact that I learned in the course of the reading for my book has to do with with recent research with the last five years on the prognosis of Alzheimer’s disease and the dimensions of old age this went on in Toronto Canada so Alzheimer’s in the old aged men they’re feared because they they seem to be unstoppable there’s nothing you can do about them people talk about playing bridge or pseudo GU but the fact is there’s no evidence there until recently there’s been no evidence that anything protected you against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease until a study in Toronto in a old old people’s homes show that the one predictor is that bilingual or multilingual people get on the app if they’re going to get Alzheimer’s they get on the average five years of protection against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s the reason is that of course being bilingual or multilingual is is the most constant exercise you can have for the brain what we don’t know is whether a multilingual person with ten languages gets only five years of protection as those are bilingual I have a personal interest in this because with 13 languages I would get 65 years of protection but if it maxes out at bilingualism then my other 11 languages are doing me no good the fact that you can ask for beer in German brings you to great benefits one is your drinking the greatest beers of the world with due respect to the UK and the other is that your ability to do this will give you five years protection in case god forbid etc okay Jarrod’s been fascinating this part of the discussion we’ve moved from a kind of general discussion about what we mean by society what we mean by traditional whether we should idealize not idealize what lessons we can learn talked a little bit about life stages if you like bringing up children dealing with dispute and getting older and so on so we’ve done a bit of an arc and I’m sure you know through through that conversation there’ll be lots of things that have come up in the minds of the audience questions and themes and so on so what I suggest is now for the next 20 minutes or so we turn to the audience and if you’re happy to take questions from hello professor Jarrett and Portuguese 30 year old girl and what I have two questions one what about the sense of belonging in the societies you saw in New Guinea up is it different do people get more mental or psychiatric conditions or do you see them some disturbances because just Western society it’s increasingly often second it would have to do with how do they deal with sexuality I mean prejudice I don’t know the right word for preconception I’m not English so how do they deal with different do you mean discrimination yes we’re discrimination right not only women but also against sexuality itself okay so that would be my two questions these are both very interesting questions to take the first one sense of belonging and the consequence for people who lack a sense of belonging of psychiatric conditions I’ve often asked friends who are physicians or psychiatrists who have experience in traditional societies whether the frequency of mental disorders is higher lower or different mental disorders and the answer they give me is we don’t know the reason we don’t know is the difficulty of diagnosing bipolar conditions or other mental disorders in a New Guinea society compared to a Western society what I can say from my observation is that that in New Guinea often I see in villages people who the villagers themselves recognize as being they would say long-long that’s that they the person has a mental problem but the person is never less integrated within village life and does what he or she can so that’s the first question and the second question sexuality and prejudice varies enormous ly among traditional societies things that vary are the treatment of women heterosexuality versus homosexuality child sexuality it’s difficult to generalize the only generalization is that there was a study that looked at the role of women in many respects in traditional societies and it turns out that there’s not a single role of women it’s not the case that that a society treats women badly across the board at least the well across the board women they have more economic power and less social power they more child-rearing power a general pattern is that that women in most traditional societies and more authority as regards the younger children and the involvement of the men may be stronger after age six but in short there’s just an enormous variation in sexuality so these are two important questions both of which would have been worth a chapter in my book be grateful that my book is already it’s already long I want to ask you a question which touches on the territory that you’ve explored in your number in your books and it’s quite a complicated question but it’s to do with dealing with some of the issues or of the limits of our planet and the environmental issue human nature human societies are really formed and structured by the essential requirements of living in in an environment acquiring security acquiring goods sugar of fats etc etc and that that’s a driver of our consumption pattern but in a sense we need to transcend that way of of being and living our lives and we need to actually sublimate or suppress those those drives to achieve a balance in a limited system and you looked at this a bit in in collapse but what are your thoughts about how we can actually solve that problem the limits of our planet but our unlimited desire for consumption and and security a shameless author would recommend that you read my book collapse but that would be utterly shameless and I need to say something worthwhile to you now so sir one thing one thing that’s that’s will be useful in getting us to a sustainable economy and we’ve got to get to a sustainable economy in the next 40 years because we don’t we have finished at the rate that we are depleting resources at the moment important is for people to feel the consequences of their own environmental mistakes that’s to say their own overconsumption and for for example when I look at past societies that have messed up their environments and declined as a result the ancient Maya the Qamar Easter Islanders and so on and I look at societies that have managed their resources successfully for millennia after millennia Japan to capilla Iceland the New Guinea Islands and when I asked are there any consistent differences one difference seems to me that societies in which the the elite the leaders feel the consequences of their own environmental mistakes are more likely to adopt sound environmental policies whereas if the leaders can insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions they may go on exploiting the environment and the commoners may then be suffering increasingly but the Kings may still have enough food until it’s too late has happened with with the Maya and that of course it’s a worldwide problem today because when one compares the first world and the developing world consumption rates in the first world in the UK and us something like 32 times those in the in the developing world but the first world is not yet suffering the consequences of its over-exploitation what we need to do well to get us onto a sustainable path we in the first world need to suffer the consequences of our destroying the environmental resources on which we depend it’s interesting that that doesn’t necessarily apply in the case of obesity which is a direct form of overconsumption I mean there’s a direct consequence of eating too much which you get fat so you’re faced with it pretty immediately and yet we have obese societies where it seems to be the norm and accept it in fact part of your belonging is to look the same as everybody else this illustrates the fact that that for individuals as for society’s knowledge of what is good doesn’t good for you or for the society doesn’t mean that you will do what is good for you or for the society there’s now widespread information from public health about the importance of a healthy diet and nevertheless the frequency of diabetes in the UK and us at seven type-2 at seven to nine percent but diabetes is exploding in India and China and in the Mideast and it’s exploding because those societies are acquiring affluence the ability to get onto a Western diet before they’ve acquired the public health knowledge of how the Western diet is bad for them and so you have the irony that in India and China diabetes particularly afflicts wealthy urban people whereas in the UK in u.s. diabetes particularly affects poor two things I’d really like your observations on the first is when you stated that societies become more enclosed and certainly with the tribes in New Guinea they identify themselves by their name and the village they come from and Robert you mentioned that you find that quite frustrating and enclosed and I would argue that we actually identify ourselves on a daily basis with branded labels the car we drive the area we choose to live in so I’d like your comments on that and the second thing is with regard to learn to dangers I think we all learned angels but I would query the fact that we probably take less responsibility for learning dangers in Western society because our lives are more and more complicated on a daily basis whereas a New Guinea arguably lives are more simplistic but they rely more heavily on instinct learned instinct two very interesting questions as regards identity identity in traditional societies is a social identity that refers to the group into which you were born or into which you marry and so at various levels the identity is your clan your village your tribe your language group and nowadays your nation the types of identity that you mentioned that you mentioned they’re real types of identity there are people who identified who identified themselves as I used to as a folks fog an owner and I certainly identify myself as a Bostonian as a Boston Red Sox fan and a Yankee hater but the those that those are acquired identities they’re not born or marital social groupings that’s the difference in their density the second thing about less responsibility it’s a very interesting point that you mentioned the reality is that the dangers that we many of the dangers that the real dangers for us in the UK in the u.s. are mostly dangers that are under our control we worry about terrorists and GM crops and things done to us but really the main dangers that we face are alcohol slipping and so on the the average person this is gonna sound funny but the average if you ask the average person what is your risk of having a car accident the average person will say my risk of having a car accident is lower than the average person because I Drive carefully that’s to say for things that are under our control we minimize the risk because we think that we are careful and yet by definition the average person faces an average risk very interesting question it’s something that I wrestled with in the first chapter of my my book um we we’re accustomed we in state-level societies are accustomed to defying boundaries that are surveyed and God and their customs posts and and controls at the borders in traditional societies boundaries range all the way from as fixed as in modern state-level societies to very fluid cases where traditional societies that have well-defined boundaries tend to be densely populated sedentary societies that have valuable stuff to protect such as pigs or fields and large enough population that you can devote some men to patrolling the boundary and so for example for the denied people of the bow valley of western New Guinea the boundaries are sufficiently well defined that traditional dan I put up watchtowers at the boundary and men would spend some men would spend all day in the watchtowers looking out to see whether people from the other side we’re going to come sneak across so those are boundaries as well-defined as the boundary between France and Germany at the opposite extreme societies living at low population densities that are mobile where there’s not valuable stuff to defend tend to have rather fluid boundaries that’s to say each group they have its home days and they have first rights to a certain area but other people can come into that area on a reciprocal sharing base and so for example for the [ __ ] people of the Kalahari Desert water holes would be onde but in a draw year when many water holes dry up the people over there can come use your water hole but in return the expectation is that when they’re mongongo nuts or producing you then have the reciprocal right to go harvest among Congo nuts so a short answer then is that the boundaries in traditional societies run the whole spectrum from as strict as in modern state-level societies to quite fluid but always based on shared relationships and shared as opposed to state definition as opposed to state as opposed to state definition in the case of the the Dan I of the bowel and Valley there is no state but each cry would never less define its area and it patrolling with those watchtowers West African societies where they seem to block between seen more easily good question perhaps the best answer I can give to that is a one sentence answer that a friend of mine a cultural anthropologist whose work worked for decades in an interior country of Africa said about comparing the lives of rural Africans with the lives of Americans he summed up by saying their lives in Africa materially poor but socially richer than our lives meaning that they have their lifelong friendships they have their relationships they have the material poverty they have misery from more deaths of children but they have us but the phenomenon of loneliness particularly loneliness in old age is non-existent in a sedentary traditional society oh hi I’ve just come back from a remote part of Australia called Katherine in the Northern Territory so I’ve got two questions the first one is about the Dreaming and whether in Papua New Guinea they have a similar way of organizing and communicating spirituality and the second one is about you might not want to answer I don’t have time to answer both them it’s like ons about how when a generation of indigenous people leave their community what’s the relationship in your experience of the second and third generations when they go back to their land and their spiritual beliefs on on the first question about about spirituality virtually all societies traditional especially all traditional societies have something that can be identified as religion one can get a debate about defining a religion my long chapter on religion has a table of one and a half pages with 13 different definitions of of religion but virtually all traditional societies have something that we would recognize as religion whether it’s defined by belief in us in a supernatural whether it’s defined as the power of certain acts producing certain results the term dreaming is a term applied particularly to Aboriginal Australian spiritual beliefs the term dreaming is not applied in New Guinea but nevertheless the the spiritual beliefs in New Guinea within the general framework of spiritual beliefs in Australia that’s to say they’re all religious beliefs the second question about going back after two or three generations that’s rare in traditional societies going back after one generation my friend whom I mentioned whose father had been killed while he was in utero in his mother his group returned after one generation I am trying to think of any New Guinea group that returned after two or three generations certainly New Guinea groups have their tribal memories and they’ll remember that we were driven out of that land a couple of generations ago but it’s unusual in at least in my experience for New Guineans to make the effort to recover land of three generations ago in the way that I saw the effort to recover their land of one generation but it’s worth testing is that atheism is very much Western phenomenon is there such a thing as atheism in traditional societies I am not aware partly depends upon the definition but I’m not aware of any traditional society that lacks something that we would call religious beliefs the religious beliefs we might not identify with a God in traditional New Guinea societies people don’t talk about God’s there are place other societies that they would talk about God they would be talking about spirits they would be talk about their ancestors they would be talking about their ancestors going up to the sky and then coming back in the form of birds but in this if you define atheism as a lack of what we would recognize as religious beliefs I am not aware of any traditional society that’s atheist that’s that’s this is this is a great question to end on I think thank you very much how the tradition societies perceive success well as you see I’m having to think about that in New Guinea Highlands society individual success among many among many New Guinea Highlands is our individual success for a man would be marked by how many pigs you’ve accumulated and how many wives you’ve accumulated I think we just need to clear this out more more wives mean that you can produce more pigs more pigs mean that you can buy buy more wives so for a man that’s the mark of success for a woman I’ve not heard of marks of success for women that maybe because of the paucity of female anthropologists who’ve asked about things such as success I would guess that that women women would measure success by their ability in the garden by how much crops they can bring home by their rearing of their children and then success at the society societal level success would be measured by whether you’ve succeeded in defeating the neighbouring groups and whether you’ve succeeded in acquiring more land so I guess you know I’m evolving my answer to your interesting question it’s the success would be defined differently at the individual level and at the group level and would be defined differently for men and for women thank you very much thank you for the question either we’re gonna have to bring things to close the witching hour is upon us Jared I just want to say to you thank you so much for your generosity the ideas you’ve shared with us and the spirit in which you’ve asked them thank you very much indeed

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